Typically, people tether their laptops to their Android phones, using the phone’s data connection to get online from anywhere. But you may also want to “reverse tether,” sharing your PC’s Internet connection with an Android phone or tablet.
There are a variety of ways to do this. You could use a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth — or even reverse-tether entirely over a wired USB cable. It’s useful when your computer has an Internet connection, but your phone doesn’t.
Turn Your PC Into a Wi-Fi Hotspot the Easy Way
If you can’t get the built-in Windows Wi-Fi hotspot working, you should try using Connectify Hotspot instead — it’s a completely foolproof Wi-Fi hotspot with tons of options and a nice interface.
Connectify Hotspot is great if you’re at a hotel that charges per device, or if you’re on a plane and you connect your laptop but don’t want to pay more to connect your phone. If you pay for the Pro version you can even use your PC as a Wi-Fi repeater or a wired router, or share a tethered connection off your phone
It’s really more of a power user tool, but if you’re looking for a good solution, Hotspot is free to try out, and the basic version is free with some limitations.
Create a Wi-Fi Access Point
The simplest method here will likely be to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. This is just like creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone to share its mobile data connection with your PC or Mac. But, instead, you’ll be creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on your computer and sharing its Internet connection with your Android phone or tablet.
Of course, you’ll need Wi-Fi hardware to do this. A typical laptop will work just fine. If you want to reverse-tether an Android phone or tablet to a desktop computer that doesn’t have Wi-Fi so you can share its wired Ethernet connection, you can purchase an inexpensive USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter and use it for this purpose.
Android phones and tablets don’t support ad-hoc networks, but the Virtual Router software will create a Wi-Fi hotspot that functions as an access point, allowing Android devices to connect. If you’re using another solution, be sure it functions as an access point and not an ad-hoc network.
We recommend using Virtual Router for creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on a Windows PC. It’s a convenient front-end to the powerful Wi-Fi hotspot and Internet Connection Sharing features built into Windows. You can use it to share a wired Ethernet connection over Wi-Fi, or even share a Wi-Fi connection you’re connected to by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot. This makes it convenient in situations where you only have one login for a Wi-Fi network — like in a hotel.
Mac users could theoretically use the Internet Sharing feature built into Mac OS X for this, but that creates an ad-hoc network Android devices can’t connect to.
You could also use Bluetooth for this. Assuming your phone or tablet runs Android 4.0 or newer, you can pair it over Bluetooth and use a Bluetooth PAN (Personal Area Network).
Typically, you’ll want to create a Wi-Fi hotspot if you use Windows and connect to the Internet through that. Wi-Fi is faster and easier to set up. However, a Bluetooth PAN is particularly useful on Macs — if you want to share a Mac’s Wi-Fi connection with an Android smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to use a Bluetooth PAN or get a second physical Wi-Fi adapter (like a USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter), as you need two separate network interfaces for this.
Enable Internet Sharing over Bluetooth on your Mac and pair your Android phone with your Mac. Tap the connected device on your Android device’s Bluetooth settings screen and enable the “Internet access” checkbox.
USB Cable – Root Only
It’s possible to tether your computer to an Android phone over USB, accessing the Internet via the phone. You might wonder if it’s possible to reverse-tether an Android phone or tablet to a computer via USB, accessing the Internet through the computer’s network connection.
This is possible, but it requires root access. We’ve covered a method to reverse-tether an Android phone or tablet to computer via a USB cable using a Windows application, and there are other similar methods that use different tools or commands you can type.
The USB cable method is most useful when you’re in a location where you can’t use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth reverse-tethering for some reason. It’s obnoxious because of the requirement for root access and the additional hacks and tools required to get this working. Worse yet, some Android apps won’t actually realize they have an Internet connection if you do this. If possible, you’re better off setting up a Wi-Fi access point or using a Bluetooth PAN for reverse-tethering.
Unfortunately, none of these methods will work for a Chromebook. Despite Google’s attempts to make Chrome OS and Android work better together, a Chromebook can’t yet create a Wi-Fi hotspot or Bluetooth PAN to share its Internet connection with other devices.
That’s assuming you’re running Chrome OS, anyway — you could potentially put your Chromebook into developer mode and install a full Linux system to gain access to the Wi-Fi hotspot-creation tools built into typical Linux distributions.
Image Credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr